A Thing I Do Not Like About Austin is that it's so hot here all the time. I get tired of the heat. I'm from Ohio originally, and lived in California for a few years before settling in Texas. I miss the four complete seasons, honestly (which we didn't really get in California, but it was certainly closer than Austin. It's just hot, hot, hot, then winter, then hot. Around this time, with school starting, even though I'm no longer involved in school, and September practically hours away, I start expecting fall to come, and crisp weather to allow me to wear jackets, and leaves to change. And even though I know I won't get that, really, I still long for the colors and tastes of fall. That's where I really started, with this longing, when I started thinking about this contest.
My specific inspiration came from a few places. First, in terms of cooking sweet things with peppers, I have very little experience. I know and loooove chilis in all kinds of savory foods (one of the real benefits of living in California and Texas was getting the variety of splendid Mexican, Tex-Mex, and MexiCali flavors that it's still hard to find in Ohio!) I consulted my New Vegetarian Epicure cookbook by Anna Thomas. She can put a chili in everything (and I love it). She had a recipe for a Chocolate and Chile torte, which was a starting point for me. I didn't want to do something like a torte, and, because of my participation in the Daring Bakers, I am a little chocolate-ed out. But she mentioned that the cake had an almost gingerbread-like flavor, only with a kick. So... I thought a gingerbread-esque cupcake might be different, and delicious. Then I got to thinking with such a spicy cake, I might want a sweeter icing, and at work we sell a gingerbread with cream cheese icing... so I decided to incorporate a cream cheese icing. Only, I think the chocolate would still be good with the peppers, so I would make a chocolate cream cheese icing.
Second, in terms of the chili, I was inspired by living in Austin! There are certainly a lot of chilis here, but this time of year happens to be the celibration of the Hatch chili at Central Market, a big grocery store in Austin. The Hatch Chili hails from the Hatch Valley of New Mexico, and is a long, thin green chile. I chose the mild variety, with very little heat, only rich chili flavor.
The recipe is a look forward to fall, a celebration of the Hatch chile, and the excitement of the local shopping I was able to do to to create it!
Spicy Hatch Gingerbread Cupcakes with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
I started by sauteeing 1/2 a mild Hatch chili in 2 tbsp of the 1/2 cup of butter used in the recipe. I used a mild chili to add some spice to the gingerbread base I was making, infusing some of the butter as well to spread the flavor throughout.
I mixed 1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour, 3/4 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. cardamom and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Meanwhile, on medium I beat the whole 1/2 c. Earth Balance with chilis in the electric mixer to soften it. After it was soft, I added 1/4 c. brown sugar and creamed the two together. I added 1 egg and 1/2 c. mild molasses. Then, I beat in 1/2 c. water and the flour mixture in alternate batches.
I lined 12 cupcake tins with paper wrappers and baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes, till a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean. I let them cool while I made the icing.
For the icing I softened 4 oz. cream cheese in the upright mixer, then added 1/4 c. Earth Balance and 1 tsp. vanilla. Then I added 1/4 c. Dutch process cocoa powder and about 3 cups of powdered sugar. It made a rich, creamy, delicious icing that is a lovely counterpoint to spiced cupcake. Sweet with a very, very mild hit of flavor. Mmm!